Our first day in Kyoto involved a visit to the nearby Nijo Castle. Thanks to the friendly people at the Kyoto Station Tourist Information Center, we were able to score several useful city maps and were informed of which buses to take as we go around the city. It took us a while to familiarize ourselves with the maps and how the bus routes ran, but it was exhilarating when we finally succeeded in getting from point A to point B without much problems. Knowing how to read and understand Chinese characters helped a lot too. 🙂
We bought our tickets at the entrance of Nijo Castle for 600 yen (approximately Php240.00) per adult. There were a lot of people and tourist groups, but the process was quick and easy. English audio guides can also be rented at a kiosk near the entrance by paying 500 yen.
A map after the entrance gives you a glimpse on just how big the place is. Like most of the places we visited in Kyoto, what you see outside does not measure up to what you get to see and experience once inside.
Nijo Castle was said to be built during the 1600’s to serve as the residence of the first shogun of the Edo period, Tokugawa Ieyasu. After the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate, Nijo Castle was turned into an imperial palace before being opened to the public as a historic site. It currently belongs to UNESCO’s list of Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto as a World Heritage Site.
Nijo Castle has three main areas: the Honmaru, the Ninomaru and the gardens. When you reach the beautiful Karamon Gate (pictured above), you’ll be able to see what lies inside the Ninomaru area.
Just a few meters away from the Karamon Gate is the Ninomaru Palace, where the shogun used to reside and where he accepted visitors as well. Unfortunately, taking photos were not allowed inside the actual structure as to protect the paintings inside. Footwear are also removed and left by the entrance.
The castle consists of six buildings all connected together seamlessly. Each area of the building serves a different purpose, as visitors of different social statuses or rankings are entertained in different reception areas. The innermost area called the Shiro-Shoin, though, is reserved for the shogun and his attendants. All the sliding doors and walls were adorned with paintings and there were numerous gold leaves and wooden carvings found inside.
The best feature of the Ninomaru Palace, in my opinion, was the flooring which squeaked with each step you take. At first I thought that it may be because there were so many people by the entrance that the wood was complaining under all the weight, but then I realized that the entire place was like that. Apparently, the awesome flooring, referred to as “nightingale floors” or uguisubari, were made to serve as protection against possible assassins!
After touring the Ninomaru Palace, you can head out and enter the gardens.
The place is HUGE with beautiful ponds and so much greenery!
In Kyoto, it was not uncommon to spot several ladies wearing the beautiful kimono as they go around the city. Some of them are locals, but there are also a number of tourists who just rented the kimono for the experience. It’s hard to tell them apart at times though!
Apart from the gardens, Nijo Castle also had several moats and stone walls to serve as defenses.
We climbed up a steep castle foundation to check out the panoramic view of the place. I loved the view and the cool breeze felt while being up there!
Continue exploring the rest of the gardens as you make your way to the exit. It’s a looooooong walk, but the view is well worth it. There are rest areas and vending machines along the way, if you find that there’s a need for those.
*Nijo Castle is located at 541 Nijojocho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 604-8301, Japan. They’re open from 8:45am until 4p.m; the castle is said to close by 5p.m.